Principles, People, Product, Profit

What do you value most in your business, or in the company you work for?

My priorities are clear:

1) Principles
2) People
3) Product
4) Profit

In that order… every time.

1. Principles

These are the foundation. Principles can be hard to define, but once you have them, they can serve as guard rails for future decisions. Here are the principles I’ve defined for Howdy (My little side project):

  • Intentionally Tiny
  • Embrace constraints
  • Reduce complexity
  • Stay focused
  • Stay independent
  • Forever frugal
  • Remarkably original
  • Minimal feature-set
  • Simple tech
  • Gut driven data informed
  • Give way more than you get
  • Default free
  • Promotes itself

2. People

A close second after principles is people. This can be customers, employees, freelancers, partners. Basically anyone you associate with.

3. Product

Third comes your products and services. This is the value you bring to the world. It’s your unique way of solving problems and making other peoples lives a little bit better each day.

4. Profit

Profits come last. Not because profit is least important, it’s clearly important, but in a well run company profits come as the direct result of nailing your first 3 priorities.

Hold strong to your priorities

It can be tempting at times to make exceptions, especially when things get tough. But changing your priorities tends to be one-way street. Once you’ve given yourself permission to value profit over product, people, or principles it’s a very slippery slope. It’s very hard to come back from.

Can you run a successful profit first business? I guess that depends on your definition of “success”. It’s certainly possible, but it’s certain to come at a cost.

The Resistance is Real

Today marks 12 full months that I’ve been working on a side project called Howdy.

Howdy Homepage

In that time I’ve:

  • Re-written the code base 4 times (Laravel, Vanilla JS, React, then back to Vanilla JS).
  • Started working with a partner, then broke it off.
  • Seriously considered stopping and working on other side projects at least half a dozen times.
  • Taken 2 month-long sabbaticals where I didn’t work on the project at all.

I’m happy with the tech stack that I have now and the project is probably 90% complete, but I’m finding it extremely hard to finish.

The resistance

In The War of Art and Turning Pro, Steven Pressfield talks about “The Resistance” that keeps us from doing our work.

If you’re a maker and you’ve yet to read these two books, do yourself a favor and buy them today.

It get’s worse the closer you are to completion

Pressfield says:

The danger is greatest when the finish line is in sight. At this point, Resistance knows that we’re about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it’s got.

My brain is literally trying to convince me to quit and to start working on “this other exciting new project”.

The ever so quiet whispers in my head are saying:

  • A year! Why haven’t you shipped yet? What a failure. Save your dignity. Just call it a wraps.
  • This is boring. Just shelve this project and move on to something fun & exciting.
  • No one will actually use this.
  • Will designers really find this useful?
  • What if you launch and no one finds it valuable?
  • This niche isn’t big enough. You should change the target to developers? Marketers? Sales?
  • Stay safe. Make it as generic of an offering as possible. That way anyone can use it.

And even though I know that these are all fabricated to get me to stop, the temptation to actually stop is legit.

I am very tempted to stop.

It get’s worse the more important it is to us

Pressfield says:

The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we’ll feel towards pursuing it.

As tempting as it is to call it quits, I honestly think my heart will break if I don’t finish this project. I can think back to so many moments where I still had optimism, hope, and excitement for this project. Where did all of that excitement go? Where is the hope now? How can I get it back?

Side projects are bloody hard

Massive props to anyone who is able to launch a side project and stick with it for a year or more.

Optimism, hope, and excitement be damned…

I’m not giving up on this one.

The resistance is real, but so is my aspiration to have dogged determination!

I will launch this project. 🤘

Wish me luck.

Test Your Designs

Every public facing design you push live – which has the potential to affect core metrics – should be A/B tested. Period.

But, why?

A couple of reasons:

  • Data helps you make informed decisions.
  • You test to learn. You’ll find out what works, and what doesn’t. You can then share what you’ve learned with others, and apply what you’ve learned to future hypotheses.
  • As much as you’d like to think that you can predict success, humans are terrible at it. There are no exceptions to this statement. That’s not to say that you don’t have a wealth of knowledge and experience that you can leverage. You’re always going to be fairly confident that each test you run will lead to an increase in your core metrics (else why would you run the test in the first place). But just understand up front that half of the designs you release are going to be a bust. That’s just the nature of the game, and if you’re not testing, you won’t know which half.
  • If you launch 6 new features in a month, and as a result, a month later you start to see a slump in your core metrics, which of the 6 features do you attribute the slump to? Or is it something else completely? If you don’t test everything, you’ll be in the dark.

Continue reading Test Your Designs

Intentionally Tiny Side Projects

For the longest time now I’ve been fond of indie businesses.

Most of my friends don’t even know this, but the first real company that I ever started on my own was called SimpleStartup.

It was a web app written in PHP that helped single person companies create a website, charge money for their services, and track finances:

It took me about a decade to realize that I don’t really want to be a start up founder. Up until that point, quitting my job, and launching a startup had always been in the back of my mind. It was an obsession that plagued me.

Continue reading Intentionally Tiny Side Projects

Be Gut Driven, But Data Informed

Many organizations are either all in on data driven design, or zealots about listening to their gut. It’s natural to feel polarized toward one side or the other.

You already know from the title of this post where I stand. I believe pretty strongly that there’s a sweet spot, and I don’t think it lies at either end of the spectrum.

In my experience, the sweet spot comes when a designer primarily trusts their gut to design, but also allocates some time to collect data, and to do some testing. These last two things are key, because they help you validate your assumptions, and they add clarity to your design process.

Continue reading Be Gut Driven, But Data Informed

Start Each Design from Scratch

Let’s say you’ve done a little research, you sit down at your computer, and you’re ready to start a new design.

What’s the first thing you do?

Well… If you’re like a lot designers you immediately head over to Dribbble or some other site for inspiration.

Trust me, you don’t want outside inspiration at this stage

Continue reading Start Each Design from Scratch

Don’t Pay for Design School

You don’t need a degree to become a designer.

I regularly receive pings from friends and family for advice on how to get started in a new design or front-end coding career. The emails usually read something along the lines of:

Hey Dave,

I was hoping I could hit you up for some advice. I’ve decided to switch careers to become a designer. I’m thinking of either applying to this [ENTER_NAME_OF_2_YEAR_UNIVERSITY] course. There’s also this [ENTER_NAME_OF_HIPSTER_DESIGN_TRAINING_SCHOOL/COURSE] which lasts X weeks, and costs $X000. I’m undecided. Which would you choose?

Thanks,

After a deep sigh, my answer is always the same, “I wouldn’t pay for any of that“.

Continue reading Don’t Pay for Design School

I No Longer Want to Start a Startup

We all know the “Silicon Valley” siren call:

IF:

  • you quit your job, and start a company, AND
  • you raise money (early & often), AND
  • you prioritize the growth of your company over everything else in your life, AND
  • you can hang onto the reins for 5-12 years…

THEN:

  • you’ll be rewarded with a Scrooge McDuck sized money vault, AND
  • you’ll ultimately live a fulfilled, happy life!

I used to sip this Kool-aid…

Continue reading I No Longer Want to Start a Startup